Comforting Memories

Chelle Leary wears the costume her grandmother made for me in 1976.

Every once in a while our children will do something and we are brought back in time to when we were their age. This week that happened to me.

My youngest, Chelle, is in a literature class in high school. They are reading The Great Gatsby. This week for extra credit they could dress as a character from the book. Chelle wanted to dress as a flapper. I told her where two of my dresses were hanging in storage that she could try on. One of the two dresses was made by my mother for me when I was her age.

I took dance classes growing up and by high school I had put together a “Charleston” routine and performed it at the end of summer variety show at our swim club. My mother took an old slip of hers, and added fringe to make a flapper style dress. I wore that dress again in the Sparta High School senior variety show in the Spring of 1977.

Two nights ago Chelle put on the dress my mother made for me in 1976. My husband took a photo. As I was telling her about the dress I remembered I was in the local Sussex County newspaper wearing the same dress. I found the clipping in an old scrap book. That is when the memories really started flooding in.


In the newspaper photo above, to my right is my good friend Michelle “Chelle” Chaudoin. My friend Chelle was in an in air place collision of two small planes while she was a student at Arizona State University. She died May 4, 1980 just three years after the photo was taken. I was with her parents and grandparents the night they received word that, in fact, it was Chelle in the plane that went down into a lake that day. I’ve written about Chelle Chaudoin and a neat reunion at The Citadel a few years ago.

I sent both photos to my friend Chelle’s mom, Jodie, who is a widow now and in her 90’s. We had a wonderful exchange of memories and both agreed that my daughter, Chelle, is far more sophisticated than either my friend or I was at her age.

My mother died just over 27 years ago and never met any of my children. Moments like the one this week, seeing my daughter in a costume my mother made for me, reminds me that through our memories our loved ones are never far from us.

NOTE: We pronounce Chelle = Shelley



The Citadel: End of the Year Tips for Parents

2015 ready to say good bye
Members of the Class of 2015 turn to face the Corps of Cadets.

Each year about this time I receive an interesting mix of questions. Families of seniors write with graduation questions. Sophomore and junior parents have fewer questions but the ones they do have revolve around either the BVA process for junior year or early questions about Ring Weekend for rising seniors. The knob families are gearing up for Recognition Day, and the parents of high school seniors have matriculation Day questions.

Senior families:

The graduation schedule is posted on the school web site and should answer most of your questions. You only get 8 tickets per family. some large families set up a computer/TV combination in a rental home so the people who are not at graduation can see the live stream.

The school posts a link to the Balfour graduation announcements. They did not have the site updated early enough for many families so many have used a different company that offer better prices and plenty of options: Signature Announcements

I refer parents to the link to Emily Post Graduation Etiquette for an explanation about the difference between announcements and an invitation. Since the tickets are limited it is customary to send announcements a day to 2 weeks after the graduation to let friends and family know of the milestone reached by your graduate.

On graduation day be sure to ask your graduate where they want to meet you when the ceremony is over. The place is packed and if you have a designated place to meet it can cut down on the time it takes to find your grad is a sea of people.

For more tips and photos just enter Graduation in the search window of this blog page. Here is the post I wrote after graduation last year: Graduation for the Class of 2015

Class of 2015 Dismissed!

Junior families:

The biggest question that I’m asked is about the ring payment.The Citadel Alumni Association will send a bill in late August once the registrar lets them know who is qualified to receive their rings in October. Hopefully you or your cadet have been saving up. The cost of the ring has been in the $1,000 range the past several years. The payment is due before Ring Weekend.

BV and Summerall Guards with Jason
A few 2014 Summerall Guards, 2015 Bond Volunteers pose with ’89 grad, Jason Perakis, before their run Friday of Corps Day Weekend.

It is customary for the cadet to escort their mother through the giant replica of the ring the Friday evening of Ring Weekend. The schedule of when each company goes through the ring is posted early in the new school year by the cadet activities office.

For photos of dresses and other activities of the weekend, see this post: Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel, 2015

Sophomore families:

There isn’t much parents need to know before junior year. If your son has plans to become a Bond Volunteer Aspirant, you can expect them to spend a good part of their summer physically preparing. I’ve posted several entries about the process you might find helpful.

Knob families:

It won’t be long until your son or daughter will cease being a knob and become a regular 4th Class cadet. Recognition Day is coming up. If you attend, remember it is not a day to interact with your cadet. If you go, watch from the sidelines, take photos and be in awe of how they have grown as a class in one short academic year. This year I am looking forward to being on campus and joining some 2019 families for lunch that day.

Tire Flip
Cadets work together to flip a tire during the “Gauntlet.” photo by Stacy Carter Photography Studios

A heads up about sophomore year: It is a different type of tough.They aren’t knobs but if they have rank they are the lowest ranking officers. Many refer to it as knobmore year because it doesn’t seem a whole lot different than the year before. Parents like to call it knob-no-more, but I’m told by many cadets and grads that knobmore is a better description.

A few words of caution. . . It is a year when they do get a little bit a power. It can be a time when they will run into the discipline system a bit more. Grades can slip sophomore year because they don’t have anyone telling them what to do like they did the year before.

Families of high school seniors:

Congratulations! You are about to embark on quite a rollercoaster ride called Knob Year. Please join the Facebook group called, The Citadel: Parents of the Class of 2020. Please send me an email to let me know you are the parent of an incoming knob. The group is only for parents of knobs, not extended family. You’ll meet other parents who will become your friends. A few parents of grads are in the group to help answer questions. We have a variety of different backgrounds.The Citadel Family Association also has a Facebook group you can join. The Area Reps are parents throughout the country who volunteer to be a support to knew parents. Once you know your son or daughters company (on Matriculation Day) you will have a CFA parent volunteer you can also contact for help and support.

Knobs and Mark Clark statue
Knobs line up after getting their heads shaved Monday of Challenge Week, 2015

He Wore the Ring


Tami Mendez, Pat Conroy, and Dorie at a book signing at The Marcus Jewish Comminity Book Festival.

He wore the ring and captivated the imagination of his readers. The Lords of Discipline inspired young men and women to seek out the unique challenge of attending The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. He turned a phrase like no one else. He packed the house each time he appeared at book festivals.

Pat Conroy died last night after a short confrontation with pancreatic cancer. The news spread across The Citadel social networks like wild fire last night.

I have to admit I did not know much about Pat Conroy before my son set his sights on attending The Citadel. Like many high school boys my son had read The Lords of Discipline and was drawn into the mystic of the military school. While after the publication of the book Pat endured ridicule and on campus and around Charleston, from my observations his book was the reason young people wanted to attend the school. Sure it was tough and the tales of the rituals He described were harsh. For the student meant to attend a military school his story spoke to their need to challenge themself in a way only a military leadership school could.

During my sons knob year an educator friend suggested I read The Water is Wide as my introduction to his writing. I was hooked. I read everything Pat Conroy wrote my son’s knob year at The Citadel. His books helped me understand why my son and so many of his friends were attracted to The Citadel and it’s culture. When I got to his book, My Losing Season, I found I had more in common with Pat than I realized. While he played college basketball for alosing team, I was a manager for a men’s college basketball team. He even wrote about people I knew from the University of Richmond, my alma mater and the nemesis of The Citadel in his book. After reading My Losing Season I was moved to write to Pat Conroy. I doubt he ever read my letter. I felt compelled to write to him. I had never written to another author, but his books and his complete vulnerability in sharing his very personal stories touched me deeply.

My first Parents Weekend in 2007 I was visiting with my son’s host family at a tailgate party. I shared with his host parents and their good friends how much I enjoyed Pat’s books. As it turned out they were friends with Pat for years. They told stories of Pat visiting them while they were serving overseas. They also told stories of his generosity and caring for the Corps of Cadets. I didn’t realize it until much later in the afternoon, but the tailgate we were attending was hosted by Mary and Greg Smith. Pat wrote about their friendship in his books.

Since 2007 I have had the opportunity to hear Pat speak at book festivals. He has signed books for me and thousands of others. I am very glad now that during an open mic Q&A at the Marcus Jewish Community Center Book Festival I gathered my courage to go to the mic in front of 2,000 people to thank Pat Conroy. At the time my son was a cadet and I was the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group, a group that started years ago through the Atlanta Citadel Club. When I started at the mic I said, “I am the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents group.” Pat interrupted me and to great laughter in the crowd said, “Oh Boy, here it comes.” I went on, “My son and many of his friends are now at The Citadel, many because they read your book. I just want to thank you.” To my surprise the crowd gathered began to applaud loudly.

I am saddened today to know of his passing. I rejoice with legions of his fans that he lived and wore the ring.